Yellowtail prices higher for wild, farmed
Prices at Japanese fish markets have remained firm on wild yellowtail despite increasing quantities of the popular winter fish.
Wild yellowtail have been caught since summer in Hokkaido, but landings and prices had both remained low. From November, increasing quantities of yellowtail were caught in trap nets in Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures along the Sea of Japan. Such winter yellowtail are referred to as “kan-buri” (cold-weather yellowtail). This year they are of good size and quality.
Yellowtail migrating south down the Sea of Japan in winter are fatty and as Japanese consider it a winter food, they fetch a higher price than those caught earlier in the north. As winter demand kicked in at the beginning of November, the average wholesale price at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market rose to JPY 1000 per kilogram (USD 8.49, EUR 6.83), nearly doubling that of early October.
Japan’s wild stocks of yellowtail have been recovering since 2000. Over the last century, catches have fluctuated mainly between 14,000 and 77,000 metric tons (MT), but catches in the last decade have been at the top of the range, with some notable spikes above it. For example, in 2004, the capture-based fishery took over 66,000 MT of yellowtail, but catches in 2010 and 2011 exceeded 100,000 MT. A 2012 study (Tian, et al., Journal of Marine Systems) noted that a warming trend of sea surface temperatures in the Sea of Japan has been positive for migration and recruitment of yellowtail. Wild “kan-buri” are caught at about four or five years old and are 90 cm or larger.
Meanwhile, aquaculture product, generally harvested at a little over two years of age, is 30 percent higher per kilogram from the previous year, at JPY 900-1,000 (USD 7.64-8.49, EUR 6.15-6.83). The break-even price for the fish farmers for yellowtail is around JPY 800 per kg (USD 6.79, EUR 5.46).
The volume of mature fish reaching wholesale markets is now about 40 percent less than the same period last year. In 2012, 160,000 MT of cultured fish of the genus Seriola (including both yellowtail and amberjack) were produced, but the resulting low prices caused farmers to voluntarily reduce stocking rates of the fry in net pens by 20 percent. The government had requested cooperatives reduce the levels by at least 10 percent to protect struggling family operators, who were facing difficulties under the depressed prices. That group class of juveniles are now mature and are coming to market.
The usual retail price of sliced farmed hamachi in supermarkets is JPY 200-300 (USD 1.70-2.55, EUR 1.37-2.05) per 100 grams, but this has been gradually increasing. Now, even when prices 10 percent over this are offered, they are promoted as a sale.
Though they are the same species, Seriola quinqueradiata, there is not as much substitution between wild yellowtail (usually called “buri” or “kan-buri”) and farmed (usually called “hamachi”) as might be expected. The former is usually consumed grilled with teriyaki sauce, while the latter is eaten raw or as buri-shabu (dipped in boiling water, then in ponzu, a citrus-flavored sauce). When wild buri is served as sushi, it is often also usually seasoned with ponzu, rather than soy sauce, as the oil of the buri can actually repel the soy sauce, or leave an “oil slick” in the soy sauce container. Farmed hamachi comes mainly from the warm sheltered waters around Kyushu and in the Seto Inland Sea. It is available year-round, and is thus more suitable as an export item. The yellowtail used for sushi and sashimi in the United States and Japan is farmed, while the wild kan-buri is mainly a seasonal domestic item.